Essays, Translation

Four Fates in a Changing China

An exclusive new essay by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr

By the end of this year, China will have seen 40 years of economic reform and interaction with the outside world – 40 years in which China has undergone earthshaking changes. In 1978 China’s total GDP was 367.8 billion RMB ($150 billion in current US dollars); by 2017 it stood at 82.7 trillion RMB  ($12 trillion). China’s economy has grown at a phenomenal rate, and of course prices have been soaring too. In 1993 Zhang Yimou paid me 50,000 RMB ($7200 at current exchange rates) for the film rights to my novel To Live. In those days my wife and I lived in a room of just eight square meters, and for us this was an astronomical sum. We laid the money underneath our pillow, and before going to bed each night we would take it out and gaze at it, dumbstruck that we had made enough to last a lifetime. It was days before we could bring ourselves to deposit the money in the bank. Nowadays, if you were to try to buy a house in Beijing with 50,000 yuan, you would only get one square meter.